MM 2001: Health - Books

December 21, 2000

A Passion for DNA: Genes, Genomes and Society
By James Watson,
Oxford University Press, £18.99

When our cells divide, the genes within them must replicate. Mistakes sometimes occur leading to disease or death. A deficiency?

Not really, says James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. The positive genetic variants that occasionally result are the life-blood of evolution. "If the gene copying process were perfect, life as it exists would never have come about. Genetic disease is the price we pay for the extraordinary evolutionary process that has given rise to the wonders of life on earth."

A Passion for DNA is an anthology of Watson's essays charting the impact of molecular biology and tackling some of the public's fears of genetic science.


Social Determinants of Health 
Edited by Michael Marmot and Richard G. Wilkinson
Oxford University Press, £26.50

Civil servants might not be amused by comparisons between their hierarchy and that of baboons. But even cholesterol levels, which vary according to employment grade in the civil service, parallel similar differences in the baboon hierarchy.

That insight reveals the deep influences of stress and other psychosocial factors on health. As Eric Brunner and Michael Marmot write, the body evolved to respond to emergencies. "The stress response activates a cascade of stress hormones that affect the cardiovascular and immune systems... But if the biological stress response is activated too often and for too long, there may be... health costs."

The book surveys the effects of social inequality on health and offers a forum in which these can be linked with more obvious influences.

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